With every new cock-up or dereliction of duty from this Key government, righties point to the Roy Morgan polls and say ‘seems the voters don’t care’. It’s true that National is still polling around 50% in the Roy Morgan and parties’ internal polls. Yet the old hands in the Left aren’t too worried. Short of Key punching a Kiwi live on TV, they don’t expect much to seriously hurt National’s polling just yet.
Voting is a bit like buying a car. Pride is on the line. You’re making a defining statement about yourself to yourself and others that you can’t undo in the short-term. You’re stuck with the decision you made for three years, what’s the point in admitting a mistake years before you can do anything to correct it? Even if you realise deep down that you aren’t happy with what you got, it takes time until you’re ready to admit you made the wrong choice (especially when you were warned), which means the polls take time to turn.
So a clever political party plays a three year strategy. The first year is about showing that Key has feet of clay and, hopefully, giving him some concrete boots to go with them. The second year is about establishing Labour as a government-in-waiting and Goff as future PM. The third year is about presenting a refined vision and policies, giving voters an alternative to more failed government by National.
All Labour needs to do is run National close. A dead-heat at 40% will do, a lead all the better.
That’s far from impossible. Labour managed over 41% for three successive elections from 1999 to 2005. It just has to regain the votes of the 6% or so who went over to National last time but voted Labour the previous three times. Right now, National is giving those voters every incentive to switch back. It won’t happen overnight but if Labour continues to play it smart and National continues to play it incredibly stupidly there’s every chance that those voters will switch back to Labour in time for 2011. Mt Albert has given renewed Labour activists’ faith in themselves. After losing electorates over the last few terms, they now know they can take National on head-to-head and win.
Last year, we heard plenty from these voters (‘I’ve always voted Labour but the Smacking Bill/lightbulbs/showerheads was the last straw). In 2011, we’ll be hearing them say ‘I voted for Key to give him a chance but he hasn’t delivered’ and Labour will know they’re in with a good shot.